A post originally published on SEPTEMBER 5, 2020
🔗 A Simple, Confessional Argument against Classical Theism by Joe Schmid
I am starting to appreciate the confessional nature of arguments. Arguments are avenues for thinkers simply to confess to their dialectical partners what strikes them as convincing, true, or clear. They are not attacks, weapons, or anything of that sort. They are simply confessions―revelations of personal sight. “I simply confess to you that these premises seem true to me” is a motto I (and, I think, others) should get accustomed to using.
With that said, here is my confession for today: I simply confess that the following argument strikes me as deeply plausible. More than that, actually―it strikes me as clearly sound. But do not let my sight be a bludgeon. Do not let my sight shackle you into chains with which you cannot disagree or escape. I simply invite you to consider the argument by your own light of reason.
Here is the simple argument―one that I have discussed before on my blog, but one that I need to put forward in standalone, clear form.
- If classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God.
- If classical theism is true, then God is free to create or not create.
- If (i) God is free to create or not create, and (ii) for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent (i.e. can be absent from reality).
- So, if classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent. [1-3]
- There is some x such that x is not God and x is not contingent.
- So, classical theism is false. [4, 5]
Premises (1) and (2) are core commitments of classical theism (Grant 2019, ch. 1). To deny them is to deny classical theism. Premise (3) is clearly true. If there being something apart from God presupposes that God creates it, and God is free to create anything or not create anything, then anything apart from God is possibly non-existent (i.e. contingent). The only premise left is premise (5). Why believe (5)?
All we need for the truth of (5) is (i) realism about things like numbers, mathematical objects, propositions, relations, universals, etc., and (ii) the claim that if numbers, mathematical objects, propositions, etc. exist, then they necessarily exist.
Denying realism is costly. I will simply assume realism. There are propositions. The number 2 exists. Universals exist.
And claim (ii) is eminently plausible as well. The number 2, if it exists, would not simply exist on Mondays (say) but not on Tuesdays; it would not just happen to exist. It would necessarily exist. Same with propositions. Consider the proposition that one and one make two. [Insert your favorite necessary truth here, e.g. ‘God exists’, ‘God does not exist’, ‘modus ponens is valid’, ‘LNC is true’, ‘if there are philosophers, then there are philosophers’, etc.] This proposition is necessarily true. But something cannot be necessarily true unless it necessarily exists. For suppose it could fail to exist. Then, since non-existent things cannot be anything, it follows that it could fail to be true. But it is necessarily true; it could not fail to be true. Hence, it necessarily exists.
So, claim (ii) is on good footing.
All that is left to show is that these things (universals, propositions, mathematical objects, etc.) are not God. This is clearly true. God cannot be identical to the number 2 and the number 7, since the number 2 is even while the number 7 is not even. God cannot be both even and not even. The exact same reasoning applies to the other kinds of entities we have been considering. For instance, God is clearly not identical to the proposition that ‘one and one make two’ and identical to the proposition that ‘the interior angles of a Euclidean triangle sum to two right angles’. For the latter is about the angles of a triangle, while the former is not. God cannot be both about angles and not about angles.
So, by my lights at least, premise (5) is clearly true. And from this, classical theism is clearly false. By my lights, at least―’tis the nature of confessions.
Could the argument perhaps be ran in terms of dependency, not contingency, such that the CT may defend that everything depends on God, but there may still be necessary things that are not God.
We should note that there are different articulations of classical theism (CT) as a model of God. The articulation I’m working with is one broadly following Boethius, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, and contemporary thinkers like Grant, Pawl, Stump, Brower, etc. On this articulation of CT, God is, indeed, free to refrain from creating anything distinct from God, and hence anything distinct from God will be possibly non-existent. So at least as far as the CT I’m targeting concerns, granting that there are necessarily-existent-but-dependent non-God things is to deny CT so construed. Of course, one option is to adopt another articulation of CT that allows for necessary creation!
Following up on Michael, I think that Classical Theism entails that all actual things are created by God. But I don’t think it follows that mere potencies are created by God. If for instance, God is one, then the number one will be actual on account of God, and the rest of the numbers will be mere potencies unless God created two or three or any number of other things. It strikes me as plausible that the number two would not actually exist if there was only one thing; it would exist but only as a potency for God to actualise a second object. The ‘necessity’ that these potencies would have is a hypothetical necessity: if indeed there were one actual thing and another actual thing then necessarily there would be a number ‘two’ which would be instantiated by the two actual things. That doesn’t imply that two is necessarily actual, only necessarily actual on the hypothesis that there are in fact more than one things to count.
If classical theism is true, the God is simple, If God is simple, then our descriptions of God require analogical predication. If our descriptions of God require analogical predication, then all individual properties we attribute to God–such as “all necessary truths are in the mind of God”–do not imply composition in God. If all individual properties we attribute to God–such as “all necessary truths are in the mind of God”–do not imply composition in God, then we can say that God is identical any one his properties. If God is identical to any one of his properties, then God is identical to his knowledge which includes necessary truths.
For me, I don’t yet see how this interacts with the argument. Even if God is identical to his knowledge of necessary truths, we’re still left with the problem that there appear to be things that (i) are not God and yet (ii) exist necessarily. The natural numbers would be examples, as would universals like triangularity or propositions. Even if God is identical to his *knowledge* of those propositions, there’s still the question of the ontological status of *those very propositions*. So long as they exist and are distinct from God, the argument goes through. (Note that the post simply assumes realism about mathematical objects, universals, and propositions. The argument won’t work for nominalists about all of these. Though I only need realism about at least one of them.)
If you’re curious, I develop this argument in more detail in chapter 10 of my recent Springer book “Existential Inertia and Classical Theistic Proofs”. 🙂
Could I say that mathematics is necessary but dependent on God, who is conceived as a sort of divine mind?
See my response to Michael 🙂
Contingency in Islamic philosophy means dependency on another to exist. This new idea of contingency cashed out in terms of possible worlds is rather inadequate and ill suited for theology.
Therefore we Islamic philosophers can fully accept necessary existents that are not God but always depend on God. The modal collapse / libertarian freedom argument doesn’t work against Islamic models of God in the Ismaili, Falsafa and Sufi traditions
The Platonic ensemble (propositions, universals, numbers, mathematical objects etc.) are modally necessary but they are not Necessary in themselves. As William Lane Craig admits (2014), our ontology must make room for “dependent necessary beings” that are modally, i.e. broadly logically necessary but not ontologically necessary / a-se. I have argued this case in my latest paper responding to modal collapse here: https://hrcak.srce.hr/287382
So while the Platonic Ensemble is necessary in the sense of existing in all possible worlds, it is not necessary in the ontological sense of existing independent of a sustaining Cause/Ground – which is exactly how the Augustinian argues for the existence of an Eternal Intellect to ground/think these intelligibles. A Neoplatonist would also just place the Platonic Ensemble as the thought-contents of the Nous or Universal Intellect which is the eternal effect of the absolutely simple God.
So no, this argument is NOT a defeater for classical theism at all; especially considering that classical theism goes back to an era where necessity and contingency were NOT cashed out in terms of existing in all or some possible worlds.
As I explained to a previous commenter, “We should note that there are different articulations of classical theism (CT) as a model of God. The articulation I’m working with is one broadly following Boethius, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, and contemporary thinkers like Grant, Pawl, Stump, Brower, etc. On this articulation of CT, God is, indeed, free to refrain from creating anything distinct from God, and hence anything distinct from God will be possibly non-existent. So at least as far as the CT I’m targeting concerns, granting that there are necessarily-existent-but-dependent non-God things is to deny CT so construed. Of course, one option is to adopt another articulation of CT that allows for necessary creation!”
So yes, this IS a defeater for the articulation of classical theism to which I’m taking aim. Obviously, it isn’t a defeater for *every* articulation of classical theism, but instead a prominent and central one within the Western philosophical tradition. But it’s not the only articulation.
Yes Joe, I did see that comment. Although based on the recent article of Pedersen and Lilley, I am not even sure the above account of CT is actually true for Aquinas. But in either case, perhaps the CT you and most in the PhilofRel field speak to should be sub-named “Western Classical Theism” or something like that.
Would the one who revises premise 2 to something akin to, “…God is free to create or not create all possible contingent things.” disqualify the reviser from CT?